Perry: “The American Revolution was fought in the 16th Century”

The Texas Governor followed his poor debate performance with a spectacular gaffe.

Mitt Romney was the run away winner of last night's Bloomberg/Washington Post GOP presidential primary debate in New Hampshire. The former Governor of Massachusetts, who received the endorsement of Republican big-hitter Chris Christie shortly before he went on air, looked confident and relaxed as he discussed the economy and his proposed response to the twin crises of soaring unemployment and stagnant growth.

In an attempt to win over the Republican right - without which he will probably not be able to secure the nomination - Romney said that, if elected to the White House next November, he would sack current Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and replace him with someone in the mould of Milton Freidman, the late doyen of free-market economic theory. He also repeated the charge that President Obama "lacks the necessary private sector experience" to get the American economy working again.

In contrast, Rick Perry - who was under a huge a amount of pressure to win the debate following the publication of a series of polls showing a steady decline in his support - put in a hopelessly amateurish performance, frequently stumbling over fairly basic economic points.

Worse still, on a tour of Dartmouth College after the debate the Texas Governor made the astonishing assertion that the American Revolution was "fought in the 16th Century". In a convoluted statement to a crowd of assembled students and press, he said:

Our Founding Fathers never meant for Washington, D.C. to be the fount of all wisdom. As a matter of fact, they were very much afraid of that because they'd just had this experience with this far-away government that had centralized thought-process and planning and what you have you. And then it was actually the reason that we fought the [American] Revolution in the 16th century -- was to get away from that kind of onerous crown, if you will.

Perry must avoid gaffes like this at all costs. Obama's campaign team is going to be relentless in its efforts to present the Republican nominee, whoever he or she is, as the natural successor to George W. Bush who, of course, had an unrivalled habit of committing exactly these sorts of spectacular historical and linguistic blunders.

James Maxwell is a Scottish political journalist. He is based between Scotland and London.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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